2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 and Luke 9:51-62
One Sunday morning, a college student volunteered to help in worship by doing the children’s sermon. She wanted to talk about how to be a friendly church, so after getting the children up front, she began by asking the question, “What would you do if a stranger came to our church?”
Immediately, one of the kindergartners raised his hand and said, “I’d run away and find my mom.” Another chimed in, “I’d say ‘NO!’ and go tell my Sunday School teacher!”
One after another the children told the young woman how they would avoid making contact with this stranger. She tried another tactic. “Well, what would happen if a new child in town was visiting our church for the first time? Wouldn’t you be nice to him?”
“Sure!” one of the children said. “But if he was a stranger, I wouldn’t be nice to him!”
“What would happen if you were the stranger?” the young lady tried for the third time. You know that look of desperation you get on your face when you know what you’re trying to do is going down the drain in a hurry? Well, that was the look she had on her face. “How would you like to be treated? Wouldn’t you want them to smile at you and greet you like a friend?”
“Well, yes,” replied one of the more thoughtful children, “but not if they were strangers!”
We’ve done a good job of keeping our children safe, yet maybe we’ve gone too far.
Elijah and Elisha were not strangers. When Elijah was on the mountain of Horeb God spoke to Elijah in a whisper. In 1 Kings 19:16 we read, “Also, anoint Jehu son of Nimshi king over Israel, and anoint Elisha son of Shaphat from Abel Meholah to succeed you as prophet.”
Elijah found Elisha plowing his father Shaphat’s field and Elijah threw his cloak around him and Elisha left his family and went with him. He left everything he was familiar with and followed Elijah. Elisha became a Whole-Life Disciple of Elijah. His life changed in that moment. Elisha asked for a double portion of Elijah’s power and Elisha got it. Elisha performed 28 miracles, while Elijah only 14! Fourteen times two = twenty eight!
In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus’ words reveal that the authentic nature of discipleship is different than it may first appear. Each of this week’s three seekers saw discipling with Jesus in a different light. In Luke 9:57-58 we read, “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” That man did not follow, probably because he had a comfortable home and a family.
In Luke 9:59-60, “He (Jesus) said to another man, “Follow me.” But the man replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” That man, too thought more of his family and traditions, than of following Jesus. In Luke 9:61-62 we read, “Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-bye to my family. Jesus replied, “no one who put his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” That man could not put his hand on the plow and see any future in following Jesus.
Being a disciple of Jesus requires total commitment which is Whole-Life Discipleship.
In today’s gospel, Jesus was approached on the road by three unnamed people. Often, it is the case that when an unnamed character appears in the gospels, that character is meant to represent us. We are the ones who approach Jesus and tell him that we want to follow him but cannot walk away from the lives we are leading. We say we want to be given time to put our affairs in order, to take care of those we love, to say good-bye to friends and family. But the truth is that we really don’t want to let go of what we have, and we do not want to commit ourselves fully to God. Jesus’ demands for total commitment seem stifling and unfair. Such a radical commitment to serve someone else goes against our nature as freedom-loving Americans.
According to today’s text, the Walk of Whole-Life Discipleship involves three components: 1) Walk Along; 2) Walk Away; and 3) Walk Into Your Future.
Walk along with Jesus — The first would-be disciple that approaches Jesus today claims he will follow Jesus “wherever you will go!” He didn’t get it. Discipleship is not about “destination;” it is about the journey itself.
That’s why Jesus makes it clear that as the Son of Man has “nowhere” to call his permanent home, so, too, must his disciples be committed to and invested in, a life of movement. Only by continually moving along, keeping up and in step with the beat of the Holy Spirit, do disciples genuinely “follow” Jesus. There is no final “resting place” on this earth because our rest is on the journey, not at any final destination.
It’s the same with Whole-Life Discipleship. Jesus calls us to “walk along with him.” It’s an investment that has a guarantee: you will spend your life traversing fresh paths and new roads.
Walk away from traditions — The second seeker Jesus encounters today indicates he too will follow Jesus. But first he must properly “close out” a previous “account” relating to other investments he deems more important than the one Jesus offers. He must attend to family duties before he can think of investing in any new venture. Jesus’ reprimand should not be misread or misheard as heaping disrespect on the dead or implying that fulfilling obligations to a deceased parent is the wrong thing to do.
What Jesus did insist on from the very beginning is that his disciples be preoccupied with investing in life, whatever the circumstances or situations they found themselves in. As a Jew, Jesus found traditions important. But as the Messiah, he knew that he and his followers must embody a living, vital tradition, not embrace old dead legalities and laws.
Whole-Life disciples of Jesus are called to invest in life, and walk away from the traditions lived only for tradition’s sake. Whole-Life disciples must both walk away from stale strategies, tired truisms, and walk in and toward the midst of this world. They are called to be in the midst of politics, in the midst of economics, in the midst of social change, in the midst of health crises, in the midst of generational conflicts, in the midst of the arts, in the midst of scientific breakthroughs, in the midst of children, in the midst of the aged–in the midst of all that makes up human existence in this time and place. Whole-Life Discipling with Jesus means investing in life.
Walk into your future — The third potential disciple who approaches Jesus claims he is ready to follow. But he begs permission to go and give his farewells to his family before beginning the discipleship journey. Like the second seeker, this man is concerned with saying goodbye to the other investments he has made in life before road-testing any new venture.
Any broker will tell you: one of the riskiest markets anyone can get into is investing in the value of “futures”, betting on how much the price of certain commodities will rise or fall. But this riskiest, most daredevil investment is exactly what Jesus calls disciples to do with their lives. Even as disciples are called to walk along new paths and walk on the most traveled roads of this world, disciples are called to walk on and out into the unknown future. A disciple always keeps eyes forward, fixed on and believing the promises of the kingdom of God.
Noted preacher John Claypool tells about a thunderstorm that swept through southern Kentucky at the farm where his forebears had lived for six generations. In the orchard, the wind blew over an old pear tree that had been there as long as anybody could remember. Claypool’s grandfather was saddened to lose the tree on which he had climbed as a boy and whose fruit he had eaten all his life.
A neighbor came by and said, “Doc, I’m really sorry to see your pear tree blown down.”
“I’m sorry too,” said his grandfather. “It was a real part of my past.”
“What are you going to do?” the neighbor asked.
His grandfather paused for a moment and then said, “I’m going to pick the fruit and burn what’s left.”
“That is the wise way to deal with many things in our past,” says John Claypool. “We need to learn their lessons, enjoy their pleasures, and then go on with the present and the future.”
Luke 9:62, reads “No one who puts a hand to the plow while looking back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
Walk along — keep moving. Walk away — keep growing. Walk on — keep believing in your future following Jesus.
Jesus doesn’t want fans. He wants followers. Jesus wants people who will do more than simply sit in a pew and clap and cheer. He wants people who will take up a cross daily, the cross of service and love.
Some of you may know the story of Rich Stearns. When Rich Stearns was a young man and new Christian, he got engaged. His fiancée like many young brides wanted to register for china at the local department store. But he said to her, ‘‘As long as there are children starving in the world, we will not own china, crystal, or silver.”
What a wonderful statement of discipleship. His answer reminds me of that first man in our lesson who said, “I will follow you wherever you go,” yet was not willing to give up his comfortable home and life style.
However, as Rich entered the corporate world and started climbing the ladder, he found he had a really good head for business. Twenty years later he was the CEO of Lennox–ironically, the top producer of luxury tableware–fine china–in the country.
One day Rich received a phone call from an organization called World Vision, asking if he would consider getting involved with them. So, Rich went to Rakai, Uganda, an area considered ground zero for the AIDS pandemic. In that village he sat in a thatched hut with a thirteen-year-old boy with the same first name as his–Richard. A pile of stones outside the door of the hut marked where they had buried Richard’s father, who had died of AIDS. Another pile of stones marked where they buried his mother, who also died of AIDS. This kind of thing happens every day in Africa.
Rich talked for a while with young Richard–now the head of the household trying to raise his two younger brothers–and asked him at one point, “Do you have a Bible?”
Yes, the boy said, and he went into the other room and brought back the one book in their house.
“Are you able to read it?” Rich asked, and at that the boy’s face lit up. “I love to read the gospel of John because it says Jesus loves children.”
And suddenly Rich Stearns knew what he had to do. He needed to follow Jesus full-time. He left his job and his house and his title. Today he’s working for God. *
Rich Stearns is the kind of man Christ is looking for. Christ is not looking for people who’ll get excited for a few moments on Sunday morning and then forget all about their good intentions. He’s not looking for people who are suffering from the “But-first” syndrome and who are continually making excuses about why now is not a good time for them to make a commitment. Jesus is looking for followers–people who will wake up each day with a determination to live as Christ would have them live. Can he count on you?
We call the Fourth of July, which is this Thursday, “Independence Day” and have good reason to celebrate. We say this is the day we gained our freedom from British rule. But are the words “freedom” and “independence” really the same thing?
I think that, though we did gain our independence from England in 1776, we remained largely English for some time after. If we had truly become something new, a free country, we wouldn’t have viewed native Americans as the enemy. But we continued to think of ourselves as Europeans and held on to our hatred and fear of everything non-European for a long time. Most of us still identify ourselves more readily with European culture than with the culture of the people who occupied these lands before us. We weren’t free of the English in the 1770s; we merely became independent of them.
Think about our country the United States of America: Only in America can a pizza get to your house faster than an ambulance. Only in America do drugstores make the sick walk all the way to the back of the store to get their prescriptions, while healthy people can buy cigarettes at the front. Only in America do people order double cheeseburgers, large fries and a diet coke. Only in America do we leave cars worth thousands of dollars in the driveway and put our junk in the garage. Only in America do we use answering machines to screen calls and have call-waiting so we won’t miss a call from someone we didn’t want to talk to in the first place. Only in America do we buy hot dogs in packages of ten and buns in packages of eight.
When you celebrate 4th of July this year, think about what happens, only in America and not anywhere else in the world! I bet you’ll smile and share what happens only in America with someone else.
If we want a Whole-Life Discipleship, walking with Jesus; we must be willing to walk along with Jesus, walk away from some of the traditions which are not working anymore, and walk into our future, being willing to leave the past behind. These are the only ways we will know the joy Jesus wants us to know in Him.
Pastor Rosemary DeHut
References: *John Rich Stearns, The Hole in Our Gospel (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009). Cited in John Ortberg, The Me I Want To Be (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010).